University of Arizona

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“Dunker, Jousters Invade Mall”: The History of UA Spring Fling

“Dunker, Jousters Invade Mall”: The History of UA Spring Fling

Spring Fling, an annual UA tradition, returns to the UA campus April 11-13 after spending the last 15 years at Rillito Downs.  Conceived in 1973, Spring Fling has grown into the largest school run carnival in the United States.  It expanded from Bear Down Field to the UA Mall as the event grew to include rides, food booths, games, exhibits and acts.  Alongside the traditional carnival attractions, local and nationally known bands have played the event including No Doubt and the Smithereens in 1992. 

The first Spring Fling was held April 7, 1973 when the Associated Students of the University of Arizona (ASUA) partnered with Arizona Alumni Association as a way to bring the campus community together and help raise money for campus clubs and organizations.  This one day carnival included on one end of the UA mall craftsmen, ring sellers, painters and weavers and on the other end food, cakes, cookies and lemonade.  Located in the middle of the mall were various events such as football tosses, water dunkings, medieval jousting and wheelbarrow and donkey races.  University Athletic Director Dave Strack and baseball coach Fred Snowden were among those who participated in the dunking booths.  Contests such as pie eating, tricycles races and a greased pole climb with a $25 prize were also held.  Campus groups who had booths at the event included sororities, fraternities, the Black Student Union and Concerned Chicanos.  All proceeds from Spring Fling went to charity.

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Jesse Colin Young, and Focus were the scheduled entertainment for Spring Fling. They were the first acts to play at the McKale Center on April 8, 1973.  The audience was rowdy, openly used drugs, drank beer and littered the new floor with cigarette butts which put the future of concerts held at McKale in jeopardy.  When asked about his experience at the McKale Center, Zappa said “Not too bad compared to the other barns we have worked in.”